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Beyond Love Languages: Let’s Look at Attachment Styles

Maybe you’ve heard of Love Languages, which is the way people like to share and receive love. Love Languages are a popular concept right now, and people tend to know they’re a “words of affirmation” person, or that their date or their partner is a “physical touch” person.

Love Languages can only take you so far however. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation where you communicated your love languages with a partner but still don’t feel like you’re emotionally satisfied. Looking at your attachment style, and the attachment style of the person you’re with (or considering being with!), can open up your eyes.

Now what is an attachment style? As a child, you were raised by one or more people. Ideally, you grew up with a felt sense of being taken care of consistently, and having one or more people who you could go to who would meet your needs reliably, both emotionally and physically. If this happened, you likely have a secure attachment as an adult. With a secure attachment, it’s easier to build relationships, particularly romantic relationships. In general in a secure attachment, when your partner has a need (like “I want more compliments from you”), you want to meet this need. You neither feel particularly driven to pull away, nor see the need as a sign that you are a bad person or were failing before.

If your reaction to hearing a partner or potential partner say “I want more compliments from you” is “Uck, gross” or “That’s awfully needy, why are you so insecure?” or “Nah, I’d rather not”, then you may be working with an avoidant attachment style. Avoidant attachment can result when as a child, you didn’t reliably get your needs met emotionally and/or physically, so you gave up on having needs. That also can make it difficult to recognize and respond to the needs of others.

Now, what if your response is “Oh no! My partner wants more compliments. This must mean the relationship is now doomed, she’s going to leave me, and she’s been hiding her feelings all along.” When this sort of response is a pattern in your life, it may be indicative of an anxious attachment style. Anxious attachment tends to result when as a child, you weren’t sure if you were going to get your needs met.

The last attachment style is called fearful avoidant, which in a milder form is a bit of a mix of both the avoidant and the anxious. If this attachment style is more pronounced, it may have resulted because as a child, your caregivers could be scary or even dangerous at times. If you have this style, your response to hearing “I want more compliments from you” might vary and not be very consistent day to day. Or maybe you have a tendency to both worry that the relationship is doomed and become fearful and “lean in” while also pulling away and “leaning out”.

Can people with insecure attachments be in healthy relationships? Yes. However, it’s best if a person with an insecure attachment is partnered with someone with a secure attachment, as they can handle what comes up better. If two people both have insecure attachments, it can work, but it can also be exhausting.

Can people change their attachment style? YES. The first step is recognizing your patterns and perhaps where they come from. The next step is reflecting and making more secure choices in your day to day life (Yes, I will give you more compliments!), and trying to seek out people with secure attachments. Therapy can be very helpful if you’re trying to move to a more secure attachment style. Reading about attachment styles is not enough, because you need to DO things differently so your brain can start to rewire itself to a secure attachment model.

We hope this primer on attachment styles is helpful, and there’s a lot more to learn! The book Attached by Amir Levine focuses on attachment styles. And here are a few Instagram accounts to learn more:

@theanxietyhealer
@thebraincoach
@thebehaviourtherapist
@the_secure_relationship

NYC Counseling Therapist Emily Daugherty, MSW-I

written by Emily Daugherty, MSW-I

Emily’s approach focuses on identifying and building strengths and resiliency. She draws on techniques from CBT, trauma research, and somatic therapy that allow us to get out of our heads and to pay attention to emotions and sensations in the body that may otherwise go unnoticed. Ultimately, Emily seeks to tailor therapy to the individual based on their values, preferences, and goals.